I wasn’t ready yet. I still needed one more year with Quebec. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to go to Abbotsford, but at the same time I’m taking it as a positive criticism and I’m working on my game to get there next year. - Ryan Culkin
CALGARY, AB -- With the best of intentions, Calgary Flames prospect Ryan Culkin was hoping to avoid a fourth year with the Quebec Remparts.
Chasing the opportunity to turn pro with the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League last September, the 20-year-old was instead returned to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to play out his final season of junior eligibility.
“[Turning pro] was in the back of my mind a little bit,” said Culkin, who has six goals and 43 points in 52 games this season. “I wasn’t ready yet. I still needed one more year with Quebec. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to go to Abbotsford, but at the same time I’m taking it as a positive criticism and I’m working on my game to get there next year.
“I wanted to have a big season this year, hopefully get some eyes open and get some people talking about me. I just really wanted to improve my offence as well as my defensive game.
“Next year, I’m going to go into camp on a mission.”
He’s certainly well on his way.
Culkin has tied his QMJHL best in goals at six with 13 games remaining. He’s also just two points shy of matching his career-high of 45 points established a year ago.
His breakout year, Culkin credits, is largely due to Remparts coach Philippe Boucher.
“I had a great coach in Quebec for half a year,” said Culkin, originally selected by the Flames in the fifth round, 124th overall in 2012. “Boucher was tremendous. He’s helped me out tremendously with my game. He’s been in the NHL for numerous amounts of years as a defenceman. That was a big help for me.”
Boucher, who spent parts of 16 seasons and 748 games in the National Hockey League with the Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins, was named Remparts coach after the departure of Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche last May.
But instead of playing out his last chapter under the former journeyman blueliner, Culkin’s rights were traded to the Drummondville Voltigeurs at the QMJHL’s deadline in January. There, he’s had plenty of tutelage under another past NHLer in former Flames defenceman Denis Gauthier.
“Now with Drummondville, I’ve got help from Gauther. He also played in the NHL,” the 6-foot-2, 185-pound rearguard said. “I look back and I’ve been so fortunate in my junior career. I’ve had Patrick Roy coach me for three of four years, I’ve had Philippe Boucher for this past half year and now I have Martin Raymond, who has coached in the NHL as well as Gauthier. I’ve been so lucky and so blessed.”
It’s an optimistic outlook for what Culkin admitted was a shock to the system upon learning he’d be leaving Quebec after spending 205 games with the Remparts -- despite seeing the writing on the wall.
“At the beginning of the year before the season started, I was planning for it a bit,” he said. “I knew Quebec wanted to host the Memorial Cup (in 2015) and they didn’t have much trade bait other than me because I wont be there next year. But it still came as a shock as well. I’ve been there for three-and-a-half years and it was my home.”
He’s made a seamless transition under Raymond and Gauthier in his new place in Drummondville.
The true test is rapidly approaching though. With a 34-18-1-3 record, the Voltigeurs have already clinched a berth in the QMJHL Playoffs.
And after hoping his junior career was in his rearview mirror six months ago, Culkin has every interest in making his swan song last as long as possible.
“I want us to finish as high as possible and go all the way, not only to the President’s Cup, but I think we have a team that can go all the way to the Memorial Cup,” he said. “We set small goals every day but the big goal is obviously the Memorial Cup.
“It gets kind of cheesy but everyone tells me your junior days go by so quick and I’m starting to realize that now. It’s also the best time of your life and I’d like to end it with the Memorial Cup.”